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tomatoes

One gentleman wrote in with a litany of complaints and personal criticisms. Below is a copy of this e-mail, with his comments in quotes and my responses in italics.

“You need to change the name of your blog.  You keep referencing the Ivy League when you didn’t even attend an Ivy League university.  You’re lucky the Ivy League hasn’t sued you for libel yet.”

You’re right, I didn’t attend an Ivy, but this blog isn’t just about me, and no other phrase is so quickly and readily associated with top-ranked schools. Many people refer loosely (albeit erroneously) to roughly the top 15-20 universities as the “Ivy League,” and for lack of a better term, I’m doing the same. I suppose I could call it the “The Ivy-and-Ivy-Equivalent Lie,” but somehow that just doesn’t roll off the tongue quite so well. 

As for the accusation of libel: Last time I checked, our great nation still has something called the First Amendment. For me personally, college sucked, and I have every right to say what I please about my own experiences. As far as more general statements are concerned, it’s not libel unless it’s patently and demonstrably untrue, and there are plenty of articles cited on this blog to back up the assertions I’ve made.

“You made the wrong choice of school to attend.  You should’ve went to Yale or MIT.  Duke is a great school, but in reality, its national reputation doesn’t come close to Yale or MIT’s.  Regardless of the rankings, Duke is better known for its sports teams than for academics.”

Maybe. In my experience, the perception of any given school is heavily dependent on where you are and what job you’re applying for. On the East Coast, Duke seems to be very well-regarded, and to be known for having students were not only bright but also more well-rounded than some of their Ivy League counterparts. Duke has slipped a bit in the ratings the last decade – when I started there it was tied for 4th with Stanford and MIT – whereas now it’s hovering around #8 in the U.S. News & World Report rankings. Regardless, it’s consistently a Top -10 university, so I disagree that there’s a very substantial difference between Duke and say, Columbia or Princeton. And personally, I disagree that I would be better off had I attended Yale or MIT. The key problems for me would have applied at any of these universities – namely, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life, the tuition was exorbitant, and the coursework was painfully difficult and utterly irrelevant to any profession. If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t even apply for any of those schools, let alone consider attending one of them.

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hs

Hi,

My name is [redacted] and I stumbled upon your blog while searching for posts about the Ivy League.

I was rejected from all of the Ivies or Ivy-equivalents I applied to (or rather, mostly wait-listed and then rejected). I was accepted to Swarthmore […] as well as “safeties” which awarded me merit scholarships. I was also rejected by schools considerably less selective than the Ivies…

My high school experience was similar to yours. I graduated with highest honors in the top 10% of my class; took 11 AP and 6 honor courses; earned school wide, local, and national awards; and have extensive leadership experience in unusual areas (founder/president of two clubs, congressional intern, created and taught an actual class at my school, varsity tennis).

[…]

I’m not writing to you simply to vent–I’m looking for advice. Since my dismal decisions were released, I’ve been feeling great anxiety over the fact that I worked so hard for sub-par results. Of course Swarthmore is amazing, but I still regret not studying harder for the SAT points, or bringing that A- up, or my AP Stats score of 3. I also constantly rethink my essays, most of which I thought were great, coming up with possibly more successful topics. Like you, I traded a healthy social life for strong academic success, but without reaping the full, albeit possibly not-worth-it, rewards.

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purpose

I recently posted a link to this blog on Facebook, and an acquaintance responded that he didn’t understand the purpose of the site. What exactly was I trying to accomplish? After a bit of reflection, I realized that “The Ivy Lie” is rather a hodgepodge of article links and personal commentary, so I’d like to take a moment to point out why I set this site up in the first place.

I’ll repost portions my friend’s comments (with personal details removed), as well as my responses. Hopefully this will give a better idea of what this blog is all about.

He stated: “I’m not sure I understand the blog fully. What does the institution have to do with difficulties in finding jobs? I think some of the stories were of people that are expecting six figures because they went to an “elite” school […] Getting a piece of paper from a fancy school doesn’t make you any smarter or capable than anybody else, and certainly does not entitle you to high salary jobs.”

And I replied: “Precisely! But I’d venture to say that many if not most students who choose to attend these sorts of schools expect precisely that. Maybe not that they are entitled to a six-figure job after graduation, but that the education they will receive at such an “elite” school is genuinely good enough that they will have the necessary knowledge and skills to land a highly paid (and interesting) job, and certainly not have to deal with unemployment or poverty. I definitely wouldn’t have gone to Duke if I had thought otherwise, but my experience was precisely the opposite: Instead of finding my dream job, I wound up a broke, unemployed emotional basket case, living in my mom’s basement and wondering what the hell I had done wrong… when in reality, the whole thing was an illusion in the first place.”

He also said: “I received my BS [in an engineering discipline] from [a state university] and I have no problems [finding work].”

To which I replied: “That’s exactly the point of this blog – to demonstrate that state school educations are perfectly adequate, and that it’s all about what you study, not where you study it. But there are tens of thousands of students every year who swallow the Ivy League pill, believing that it will open doors that would be totally absent otherwise, and instead wind up under a mountain of debt and are left with a degree which sounds prestigious but that provides no practical skill set. Instead of focusing on building useful practical skills for which there is real demand in the job market, they get caught up in the experience of being at an elite private school. They fail to realize that it does matter what they study, instead assuming that the name recognition alone will carry them (it’s an attitude along the lines of, “I went to Harvard – what more do you want?”). Suddenly, four years later, they get a dose of reality when they’re forced to look for work and can’t find it. For me at least, it took a long time to realize that my degree was basically useless, that I’d been lied to, and that I had to go back to school and start over if I was going to succeed in life. Basically, I’d like to get the message out to all these potential suckers (by which I mean Ivy League applicants) before they get themselves into a world of hurt like I did.”

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unemployment-line

Still dreaming of a spot at Princeton or MIT? Still believe that a diploma from Stanford or Yale will make all your dreams come true? Here are a few more links that might change your mind:

Ivy League Graduates on Food Stamps

http://www.nationalreview.com/phi-beta-cons/276106/ivy-league-graduates-food-stamps-nathan-harden

Graduating into unemployment

“Nikki Muller, known for her viral YouTube video, “Ivy League Hustle,” still can’t make more than $14 an hour… [she] graduated from both Harvard and Princeton.”

http://www.diamondbackonline.com/opinion/article_9563b87c-26f4-11e2-9ab4-0019bb30f31a.html

Is an Ivy League Diploma Worth It?

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203733504577023892064201700.html

Ivy League degree, no job

http://money.cnn.com/2011/05/17/news/economy/recession_lost_generation/index.htm

30s: Ivy League Unemployed

“Good-bye, Rat race. Good-bye, Bank Account.”

http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/bizfinance/finance/features/n_7941/index3.html

Unemployment Stories, Vol. Three: ‘Absolute Hell’

“I am a mid-30s female with an Ivy League graduate degree. I just received my third layoff in a little over four years.”

http://gawker.com/5930119/unemployment-stories-vol-three-absolute-hell

Unemployed Banker and Ivy Leaguer Reaches All Time Lows

http://www.ivygateblog.com/2009/09/unemployed-banker-and-ivy-leaguer-reaches-all-time-lows/

Scamployment! The e-mail inbox of an Ivy League unemployed

http://scamployment.wordpress.com/

Is the Ivy League a waste of money?

“Princeton professor and economist Alan Krueger set out to prove an Ivy League education paid off. He wound up proving exactly the opposite.”

http://money.msn.com/college-savings/is-the-ivy-league-a-waste-of-money-weston.aspx

From Ivy League to Unemployed: How College Grads Should Approach the Job Hunt

http://onecubicle.wordpress.com/2009/09/16/from-ivy-league-to-unemployed-how-college-grads-should-approach-the-job-hunt/

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Thinking-Man-Statue

After months of silence, I’ve gotten several e-mails in the past 24 hours. I’m not sure what triggered this, but I figured I would post one of them along with my response.

“Regardless of your misgivings about college, you are still smarter than probably 99% of Americans out there. 92% of employable Americans have jobs. So while the issue of you wasting your time with college may be a subjective issue that I have no right to comment on, let’s just look at the facts. Even in this shitty economy, you can get a job because you are smarter, and thus vastly more employable, than most others.. And that was something that college did for you.”

And my reply:
“Hi there. In response to your comments: my complaint is not that college is a waste of time per se. My problem is that many degrees are impractical, and provide no useful or practical job skills, meaning that it’s quite possible to finish college and wind up unemployed or be forced to find work that has absolutely nothing to do with your degree. This is an especially painful experience if you attend a private school which costs an arm and a leg and is highly competitive. In addition, my academic and professional advisors were basically useless in providing advice on attaining practical skills, or in giving any perspective on what to expect after graduation.

Had I gone to a state school, I could well have ended up in the same boat professionally, but it wouldn’t have cost $200K and the workload would have been easier, meaning I would’ve graduated feeling a lot less stressed and burned out than I was. I also wouldn’t have spent so much time in high school preparing for the experience, which means I could have spent that time instead figuring out what I wanted to do with my life, developing better social skills, dating more actively, etc. Instead, I spent my adolescent years studying… which theoretically could be justified as means to an end, but in this case, the end was crap – bankruptcy, joblessness, living in my mother’s basement.

I have found a job again; in fact, I’m with a decent company now. However, I was forced to go back to school and get a second degree before I found work again (and I owe it all to my local community college). And the degree I pursued was entirely the result of my own research, and not thanks to anyone at Duke. And for what it’s worth, having a college degree is not particularly representative of intelligence, and whatever intelligence I have is certainly NOT the result of going to college.

My chief complaint at this point is that, given what I believe my potential is, I wasted many years of my life accomplishing nothing, while building up a lot of stress and anxiety and missing out on a lot of good experiences that other more “average” people I know have had. I can’t get those years back, but at least I can try to help others from making the same mistakes I did. That was the reason I started this blog.”

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unemployed

For graduates of top-ranked universities, the experience of admitting that you’re unemployed or otherwise unsuccessful can be mortifying. “Oooh, he went to Yale and he still can’t find a job. What a loser.”

Actually, it’s becoming more common all the time.   Below is just a small sampling of what I’m talking about:

Unemployed Yale Graduate Juggles Startup With Fatherhood

Unemployed Banker And MIT Graduate Peddles On The Street For Job

Here’s a personal rant from a Harvard Law graduate:
Unemployed law student will work for $160k plus benefits

You know things are bad when you’re forced to turn to reality TV to find work:
What to Watch on Thursday: Unemployed Duke grad tries “The Apprentice”

Here’s a blog run by an unemployed Columbia grad. This blog includes stories from many other graduates in the same boat:
Ivy Leagued and Unemployed

Another blog, this one from an unemployed Harvard grad – although this one appears to be neglected.
Roller-Coaster Ride of an Unemployed Harvard Graduate

A blog entry from another unemployed Columbia grad (complete with a comment from yours truly):
Confessions of an Unemployed Ivy-League Graduate

Job-search advice from an unemployed Yale graduate:
From Ivy League to Unemployed: How College Grads Should Approach the Job Hunt

Ivy League Law School Graduate Begs for Work on Craigslist

The about page of a dual-Ivy unemployed lawyer:
The Jobless Lawyer

Someone asks advice for an Ivy League MBA who can’t find work:
Expectations of the unemployed

Here’s one unemployed Ivy Leaguer who seems to have turned things around, at least for the short term:
Unemployed Harvard man auctions debut novel on baseball for $650,000

I have no sympathy for this next person, but it still goes to show that a Harvard degree doesn’t guarantee success:
I’m a Harvard grad who can’t hold a fast-food job

An unemployed Dartmouth grad shares her story:
Want Fries With That Frustration?

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